More on Japan

If you’re reading this blog, it’s a safe assumption that you have some interest in Japan and it’s culture. While there are many books on Japan, most focus on history, politics, or special interests. There are countless books on kendo, the tea ceremony, ninjutsu, the Warring States Period, and the rotating turnstile of prime ministers. There aren’t terribly many that detail the day to day intricacies of life and the culture. Probably for the same reason there aren’t many on the day to day intricacies of American life. Who would want to read about something so ordinary and common sense? But what is common sense for some is fantastic for others. My previous post on Japanese dating culture received a bit of positive feedback, and I intend on writing more articles in that vein. Something along the lines of everything no one tells you about Japan.

However, it is always good to have multiple sources on any topic of interest. Don’t believe everything you read, as they say. Corroborating information strengthens any statement. So while I would like my readers to trust me, some cautious optimism is best applied. I’m human, I make mistakes and I sometimes misunderstand things. For that very reason I would encourage you to seek out more literature on Japanese culture.

If you are interested in learning more about Japan and it’s culture, please consider reading the following:21jap

21st Century Japan: A New Sun Rising by Trevor W. Harrison
An excellent account of Japan’s more recent history and the country’s growth into its current global role. His discussion of Japan’s military and geopolitical struggles are especially worthy of note.

Japanese Culture by H. Paul Varleyjcult
This book deals with Japanese cultural history, primarily in the realm of the arts. A bit dry but a very informative read. A good book for building a foundation of understanding on the culture.

A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony by Hector Garcia
Titles like this normally don’t lend themselves to books of such quality. I was surprised at how accurate, well thought out, and concise a writing on the cultures and sub-cultures detailed of Japan. This book supplies an excellent primer to the life style of your average geekjapJapanese student, office worker, and many more. While many similar writings try to define the culture by a Western perspective, Hector Garcia does an excellent job of objectively presenting the reality faced by each facet of the population.

For more current and interactive information, the Something Awful web forum has a Japan thread run by an active group of ex-pats in numerous careers throughout Japan that discuss the culture and their experiences. The individuals on the forum are generally well spoken and well informed, discussing a broad range of topics.


Wherein I complain about exchange rates

My bags are packed. My passport and visa are ready. I’ve canceled my cellphone, Zipcar, and cable accounts. I’ve alerted my credit cards that I will be overseas. Yesterday I completed my final preparation for Japan. I converted my money to Japanese Yen, and closed my checking account.

My company suggests bringing roughly 400,000 to 500,000 yen when you first arrive in Japan. This large number is to cover the move-in cost for the new apartment, household purchases and standard living expenses. The paychecks are issued on the 14th of the following month, so my first paycheck will not arrive until May 14th. Given that I will be arriving a few weeks early and staying in Chiba, I was hoping to have closer to the high end of that for my arrival.

Two years ago, when the exchange rate was close to 1:1 that would be easy. The $5,100 I had in my bank account would translate nicely and give me a good cushion for my arrival. However, the dollar is not quite what it used to be. Current market rate is about 90 yen to each dollar. Trouble is my bank no longer exchanges at the current market rate, but at their set “retail rate.” This is generally a few points lower, about 84 yen to each dollar. So my $5,100 becomes about 430,000 yen. That’s 20,000 less than what market rate would give and 70,000 less than what I would like to have. It’s like I lost $700 just because.

So this puts me into accounting mode. I’ve gone through a much more detailed initial and month to month cost analysis, but I won’t bore anyone with that here. A very brief overview though: My initial payment for my apartment will be about 210,000 yen. Any major household purchases I can most likely put onto my credit card. Utilities should run about 12,000 a month and food about 48,000. Multiply these by two that’s 120,000 yen. The remaining 100,000 yen should cover any unexpected costs or miscalculations until May 14th. So long as I’m watchful of my spending that is. In my small city cost of living should be quite low. The initial move may be a little rocky but I should be fine.

Despite the money lost in translation and the rough beginnings, there is a plus side to this. The exchange rate, which shows no sign of flipping any time soon, means my paycheck will be worth more in the States. I have some debt to pay down, and with a potential 10% increase on yen to dollars, I can pay the debt down that much faster. That’s the plan anyway. I may not be able to rock out quite like I wanted to with Nick and the crew from East House II when I arrive, but I’ll be able to get by. I was really looking forward to Ageha, too. Maybe I can set some cash aside for that.

As of today there are three days before I fly out. Monday 1:25pm. Going away party is tomorrow, and I doubt I’ll get another post in before I leave. Take care everyone, and hope to see you on the other side of the world sometime.


I received an e-mail last night from the Interac Osaka branch about housing placement. I wasn’t given much by way of choice. It was basically “We found this place for you. Is it okay? Please say it’s okay.” I gave it the once over. Looked at the building, the room layout, location on the map relative to the rest of the city, and everything looks pretty good. The only thing I don’t like about it is the name. Leopalace ハームス. That’s Leopalace Hams. Why the hell did they name the building Hams? Other buildings are named like Twins or Aka Tonbo (red dragonfly.) Does this one come with a side of bacon or something?

Leopalaces are mostly the same. Same layout and same furniture. I’ll have decently cheap rent for a studio and with broadband internet access included. It boils down to location, and I’m happy with this location. I’m close to the Kato city office, which means I’m also close to down town. I’ll be living and easy commute to my schools, and the local university is a straight shot south. I’m not by a train station, but it’s only 15 minutes away by bus, meaning about 30 minutes by bicycle.

One more concern out of the way.

Good Days and Bad Day

Last night was the surprise birthday party for Christa, Kana’s former language partner, at Masayuki’s apartment. Normally I’m uncertain what to give someone for their birthday. This is especially true when I don’t know them that well, as is the case with Christa. In cleaning my apartment, however, I came across two paper fans and a blue heko obi I purchased on my last trip to Japan. She seems to love them, so I am quite pleased.

The event was also a going away party for Yasu, Taku and myself. Yasu and Taku return to Japan the day after I leave. A shame we are not leaving on the same day. We could have had lunch together at the airport. At the very least I will see them at some time in Japan.

I was the last to arrive -stupid BART always takes forever on Sundays- and when I did Masayuki presented us with going away gifts. I was quite touched, as I didn’t expect anything. Plus I quite like my gifts. I received two gifts: a decorative cloth with the kanji of many different fish and a calendar with a popular children’s character on it. Masayuki showed me on the inside of the second page a special section. This section has each day of the year with a kanji inside it. This represents which days the Japanese believe are good days and which days are bad days. The day I leave for Japan is a bad day, but the day I arrive is a good day for meeting friends. I think that’s a good sign.

At the party we drank beer and ate oden, discussed language concerns, what each of us will do when we return to Japan, and other small talk. This is the kind of relaxed, personable fun I have missed. Masayuki and the other guys were very helpful answering my questions about Kansai-ben and Japanese karaoke songs (we burst into the first verse of Linda Linda.) They all offered me help in Japan, should I need it. We also made promises to see each other in Japan. I’ve decided Tadao and I have to go for drinks at Kagaya. He kind of reminds me of the owner in that fun-crazy way.

While Christa mused in melancholy about how all our ex-pats were leaving over the next six months, I am actually glad for it. Perhaps it is selfish, but when they return I will have another group of friends in Japan. They’re a really good group of guys who I know I can rely on. I feel myself blessed. While I sympathize with Christa, I know another set of Non-bei will come in to replace those leaving. It’s not the same, but that’s the academic cycle.

As far as I’m concerned, your friends are still your friends no matter where in the world they are. Even the worst bad day can become a good day if you just remember that.

Linda Linda

Yesterday I learned I can lift over a hundred pounds. This morning I learned my body doesn’t like it when I do such a thing. I ache.

I spent the past several days with boxes, packing, unpacking, repacking, shipping and labeling. Since I don’t plan on returning to California after Japan, a I’m shipping a lot of things back to my parents. I’m also discarding a bunch of stuff, which is difficult given my pack rat leanings. I also planned on shipping four boxes of items to Japan, but when the reality of its expense hit me, I paired it down to two. Even then, those two boxes are costing me $200. At least now all of my bags are packed, boxes set and I’m ready to go.

It’s gotten to the point where I’m just anxiously awaiting my departure date. I can’t really think of anything else to do. All that’s left is to get a haircut, pay off the remainder of my cellphone bill, buy omiyage, and convert my USD to JPY. All of which I am doing on Wednesday, except for the money which I’m doing next Friday.

Dana came over last night. We had dinner and caught up on our lives minutia. She’s still upset I’m leaving, but dead set on visiting me. That’s the sign of a good friend if anything. Dana is one of the few friends I have out here who is more interested in hanging out one on one and getting to know a small group of people, rather than going to all the big parties and having everyone know who you are. The curse of a city steeped in the social networking wars I suppose.

I often muse on the trouble with leaving for somewhere new is you always want the best parts of what you leave behind to come with. Dana is one of those parts I will miss, just as Post and Camellia are parts I miss of Boston. I find myself going out less lately both to conserve money and so I won’t remind myself of what I’m leaving. I know I’ll get plenty of that with the going away parties. Truth is I’m tired of San Francisco, but I wouldn’t mind bringing a few of the people here with me as my carry-ons.

Both while in Japan and before I leave I know I’ll be singing a lot of karaoke. I have my standard repertoire, but I figure I should add a few new songs before I leave. I’m practicing Linda Linda about once a night. I’m sure my roommates are loving it…
I’m not sure what else are standards in Japan, but I’m learning Natsu Nandesu by Happy End, and will ask Masa and Hisashi for suggestions. I hope to floor some locals when I not only know about the songs, but can sing them start to finish.

I should bring a Burger King crown and name myself king of the karaoke.

The good news keeps on coming

Tuesday I met with Hisashi for dinner and a bit of language exchange. I want to know more about his work as a landscape architect, and he needed someone to help with a presentation he is giving on a recently completed project. His team built a community park in Oita prefecture that will serve as a new habitat for the local killifish. I was able to learn a lot about the type of work he does and how he does it while helping with his grammar. A win for all.

Hisashi also helped me navigate the Kato City webpage, and pointed out a number of interesting things to me. For instance, there is a Muromachi period samurai graveyard, a number of temples, and some decent camping. There is also an aquarium and amusement park, but these are more geared towards children. Kato City is famous for its natural beauty. There are plenty of places to take photographs of, so it seems like I won’t be too bored there.

I’ve been catching up on some of my e-mails, though I am still behind. One of my expat friends is returning to Japan around the same time I am going. He lives in Kyoto, so he won’t be too far away. Hisashi and Masayuki both have family close by, and work conferences in Kobe in the fall. So I’ll get to see them too. My friend Shogo, who recently moved back to Japan, told me he lives in Akashi in Hyogo now. Akashi is closer than Kobe to Kato City, so maybe I’ll be able to see him a lot. I’m starting to like Kato City more and more.

I was also invited by the Hyogo JETs to a Hanami at Himeji-jo (cherry blossom viewing party at Himeji castle) in early April. Not only will this be incredibly fun at an amazing place, but it will also be a good way to build a group of friends in the area early on.

Since two of my expat friends are also returning back to Japan soon, they are having a going away party on Sunday that I am invited to. I have my own party coming up a week from Saturday.

And my tax refund from the state of California came today.

I’m marking today a win.

A boring list of necessities

I’ve spent most of this week taking care of boring necessities. Let’s take a look in bullet point format. I’ve:

-Contacted my credit card companies and alerted them that I will be in Japan.
-Filled out a change of address form
-Set my cellphone to cancel on March 16th
-Canceled my Zipcar account
-Sold my desk
-Canceled my Netflix account
-Set out my clothes for the day I leave
-Packed my bags
-Packed some boxes
-Got estimates for shipping boxes to Japan
-Repacked boxes when I found out how expensive it would be
-Shipped two boxes to Japan
-Shipped three boxes to Boston
-Set up a forwarding address

I can’t think of anything else I need to do before I leave. I’ve taken care of pretty much everything, and I’m just counting down the days.